Friday, June 22, 2007

Bellevue unhappy with Rinker annexation proposal

Council cites numerous problems with development plan

Express Staff Writer

Express file photo Developer Harry Rinker will have to significantly alter his design for his proposed Woodbridge Village if he hopes to get his property by the Bellevue City Council. Council members continue to weigh the costs and benefits of impacts the project would have on the city.

While Bellevue City Council members continue to weigh the costs and benefits that developer Harry Rinker's proposed annexation would have on their city, they made one thing clear this week¾some serious changes in the plan will be required before they approve the project.

At a special meeting Wednesday, June 20, the council continued its public hearing on the proposed Woodbridge Village development, which as currently designed would add 608 homes on 280 acres to Bellevue just south of the city on Gannett Road.

The council and half a dozen members of the public listened to Dick Fosbury, representing Galena Engineers and the developer, as he discussed plans for both parks and recreation space, and inclusionary housing.

The proposed 22.7 acres of parks and recreation space include a 1.8-acre park at the northern end of the development and another five pocket parks spread throughout the project. As well, there would be a 12.1-acre area to provide public recreation facilities such as baseball, soccer and football fields. The latter parcel would be part of a 25-acre donation of land to the Blaine County School District, on which a new elementary school would be built.

School District Superintendent Jim Lewis provided details about the district's plans for the school, which would be similar to Woodside Elementary and cost an estimated $11.5 million. He also compared the concept to the Hemingway School in Ketchum, in that it would include a city park on school property.

While the developer is using the school as an incentive for the city to approve annexation, not everyone is convinced it would be beneficial.

"I don't know why my taxes should go up for luxuries for children that aren't even here yet," said Bellevue resident and staunch opponent of the proposal John Wilkes. "If we don't annex, then these children won't be here (to necessitate a school)."

Fosbury also drew opposition from both the public and council when he said that the developer requested the inclusion of 65 units of community housing, which would amount to 10.7 percent of the entire development, rather than the 14 percent recommended by the Planning and Zoning Commission. He said the 2.7-acre site at the northwestern corner of the property, which Rinker would donate to the city, could be used in lieu of the remaining 3.3 percent of housing. The council didn't make a decision on Fosbury's request, but did let him know that there would have to be some major changes to the project's design as a whole.

"The amount of homes is scary to me," Councilwoman Vivian Ivie said.

Other council members agreed with Ivie and also found fault with the placement of the proposed small commercial center at the northern end of the project, which would negate Rinker's plan to create a walkable community.

"I would totally redo this entire plan and it might only be half the size of this (current design)," Councilwoman Beth Robrahn said.

The public hearing was continued to Wednesday, July 18, when the agenda will include further analysis on the development's impacts on water and traffic. In addition, City Administrator Tom Blanchard will follow up a discussion he began during Wednesday's meeting, detailing the necessary improvements to Bellevue's fire protection should Rinker's annexation be approved. Those could include building one major station and two satellite stations.

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